Roller coaster phobia
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Roller coaster phobia is a colloquial and slang term describing an individual's fear of roller coasters and other rides which involve excessive heights, restraints or g-forces on the body. While roller coasters are a popular theme park attraction, certain people feel nauseated, afraid, dizzy, or unsafe when riding roller coasters. In many cases, this fear is related to other phobias – such as acrophobia, claustrophobia or emetophobia – a condition like vertigo, or to a traumatic event. While not an officially recognized phobia, some cases have been treated successfully with a specialized therapy program.
Most roller coasters combine substantial heights with seemingly insignificant support, as well as free-falls and the illusion of uncontrolled drops. Because acrophobia involves an extreme fear of heights and falling, these conditions could cause someone who is an acrophobic to have an extremely negative reaction to riding roller coasters.
Claustrophobia involves two parts, fear of physical restraint and fear of suffocation. The safety harnesses and enclosures on some rollercoaster and other rides are very restrictive, in order to protect the riders from harm. In addition, the speed of these rides can cause air displacement that makes it difficult for riders to catch their breath. Both of these issues can trigger claustrophobic responses in riders.
Vertigo is a type of dizziness where a person feels as if they or the objects around them are moving when they are not. Common causes of vertigo include looking down from a great height and persistent movement, hence it contributing to a phobia of riding rollercoasters.
Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. Individuals who suffer from any degree of motion sickness are more likely to become nauseous and vomit during or after riding a rollercoaster. If they also experience anxiety as a result of the need to vomit, this can contribute to a fear of rides that can involve fast and erratic movements.
If an individual does not have other phobias which can elicit fear responses on a rollercoaster, it's possibly the result of an intense, frightening event that happened while on a ride – in particular being on a ride that experienced mechanical failure or witnessing such a failure. It could also result from someone being allowed to ride a rollercoaster when they were too young to be able to process the sensations they experienced.
Coasterphobia, like most recognized and unrecognized phobias, is an anxiety condition. Therefore its main symptom is a panic attack, which can include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, heart palpitations, and dizziness, and a sense of dread.
Fear of these rides is similar to a fear of flying in an airplane, in that while statistically, it is rare for someone to be injured or die from riding on a rollercoaster, it is an activity which carries some risk. Therefore they fall under phobias that are extreme over-reactions to normal self-preservation instincts.
In 1999, Dr. Michael Otto, Ph.D. - director of the Translational Research Program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and Professor of Psychology at Boston University – was hired by Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida to come up with a solution to rollercoaster aversion caused by fear. Michael Otto worked with fellow psychologist Brian Newmark to develop the "Coasterphobia Stress Management Program." The intent was to teach "coasterphobics" techniques that they could use before and during the ride to reduce their anxiety. The program included muscle tension and breathing techniques in line with other forms of anxiety management, and simulating specific sensations associated with riding rollercoasters, while in a controlled and safe environment. The program was successful with the initial test group.